When Blizzard announced their intention to create a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMO or MMORPG) out of their Warcraft real time strategy (RTS) gaming franchise, I dismissed it out of hand:
World of Warcraft? Oh, Diablo with no set storyline and no ending. That’s stupid.
That was me in 2003 while I was finishing Warcraft III’s expansion The Frozen Throne and reacting to the included teaser for the soon to be released World of Warcraft. I liked RTS gaming and I didn’t like the online gaming world very much; much less have the time and money to devote to one game out of the many that I was already playing at the time.
People who aren’t immersed in gaming culture may not understand the differences between these kinds of games. I can understand the confusion. The story I’m going to tell with this article may or may not require you to understand the varying kinds of games I’m going to talk about, the story of the evolution of World of Warcraft itself that I want this article to be about, but let’s start on this journey and see where it takes us anyway.
Diablo was a basic multiplayer game that Blizzard created alongside their Warcraft and Starcraft head-to-head or RTS games back in the 1990’s. Diablo was out at the same time as Ultima Online in 1997. It was very similar to what the first MMO’s looked like in testing, although it’s limited online access made it more playable than most of the original MMOs. The networks were slow and not very dependable back then. Diablo was a local area network (LAN) game that you could play competitively or cooperatively with other people on your local network. Basically; you could play with anyone who had a computer physically connected to your computer, back in the days before everything was online.
As everything online all the time began to become a thing, Diablo moved online with Diablo II and it’s online network, following the examples of the earlier entries, the first true MMOs; and with the birth of online networked games was born griefing and corpse camping and a whole host of toxic behaviors among gamers that are too numerous to mention. The fact that I recognized World of Warcraft as a directionless version of Diablo II, with the activities in-game being even less directed than the pretty one-directional type of play that Diablo II allowed, explains why I’m not a fan of player versus player (PvP) or competitive gaming in any form. In Diablo II you could have open world games that anyone could join; and most of the time what you got when you created an open-world game that anyone could join was griefers and con-artists that screwed you out of loot and left you dead while they laughed at you. This was in a game that had no market to speak of, and so no reason to screw over other players other than just to be mean at someone else’s expense. This kind of behavior happened more often than not, a sad observation on the quality of the average online human being.
That was my first experience with PvP play. This is why I still don’t PvP much and I don’t like PvP unless I’m ganking players as a rogue or healing on a Resto Druid or a Holy Paladin. A shiv in the back is what the average opponent deserves because payback is a bitch. Give me a class that can shiv you and steal honor from you as a designed game interaction, and I’m going to be there feeling your pulse through the pommel of my dagger. But enough about my personal revenge fantasies.
On November 23, 2004, the succubus of MMORPGs was born:
It’s strategy of appealing to the casual gamer worked well. A little too well. Blizzard in now way was ready for the frenzy of players eager to get into the world. Disconnects, Rollback and lag would persist heavily throughout the opening months and still consistently though the next couple of years.
Forums daily would be filled with outrage, demands for a refund and even threats of lawsuits. The miraculous thing about it though is that it didn’t even seem to slow it’s growth.
It is the succubus because World of Warcraft sucked the life out of all the other MMOs that existed before it and took down many a challenger through its long years of existence since.
To say I was less than enthusiastic about World of Warcraft would be an understatement. I only started playing the game because a friend asked me to help him keep his online gaming hobby going for a little bit longer. He was dying of cancer. I was about to commit suicide. He saw my depression and despair and he threw me a lifeline in the form of connection through online gaming that essentially saved my life:
I showed up in the game as it was changing from Burning Crusade to Wrath of the Lich King, about the same time that Activision bought Vivendi and Blizzard, although I didn’t know it then. From the start I restricted myself to servers that did not allow World PvP combat unless the players are interested in engaging in that type of play by marking themselves PvP. It was the reassurance that I did not have to engage in PvP if I wanted to that gave me the room to explore World of Warcraft in the first place. I wasn’t interested in participating in other people’s fantasies about blood and glory, especially if I was exploring or experiencing the lore and atmospherics of the world that Blizzard created. Open world PvP has never appealed to me, just as open world boss fights never appealed to me. I avoid both if I can.
Wrath of the Lich King (Wrath) fixed the thing that most annoyed me about The Burning Crusade (BC) as I experienced it. Leveling in BC was a solitary affair, a slightly less grindy experience than the original game had been. The only way that you could find players to play low-level content with was to join a guild and hope to find players who were at the same level that you were. It was almost impossible to find someone out in the world at your level who was looking to complete multiplayer areas at the same time that you were, much less find four other players to complete a multi-hour five man dungeon. In all the time I played BC I only found a dungeon group once and that experience was not a positive one.
Then came Wrath and it was suddenly possible to find a group to do things together with. For the first time in my experience playing WoW it became possible to complete the content as I imagined that the developers had intended. It was only one of many social changes to the game itself, but the Looking for Group (LFG) system made the game actually playable for the first time.
Time flies when you are having fun. Time flew for me in Wrath, Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria despite my dissatisfaction with several points of gameplay along the way. Time flew until I hit the wall of the Iron Horde and Warlords of Draenor, of having Khadgar lead me by the hand through content that seemed exceptionally tailored to waste the maximum amount of player time.
They took away my flying mounts that I had paid for with real money, because they wanted to make sure that you had to fight your way, repeatedly, through barriers put there just to slow you down in completing parts of the game that required you to move across the map repetitively. Gone with my ability to fly was my interest in professions, an integral part of the game for me up to that point.
No more crafting my own gear, feeding my own toons, crafting time-saving devices for my raiding guild. It would take too much time to get around to get the materials for these things. Gone was the pet battling side game, gone was the possibility of doing archeology (not that I liked it that much to begin with) gone was my fun.
Instead of taking the time to make the story of the Iron Horde interesting for all players (Alliance players deemed the Alpha of the game too Horde centered and so the developers removed whole swaths of planned content) they put all the focus of gameplay into running random dungeons. The raiders I played with were so focused on just running random dungeons until hitting max level that I decided I wouldn’t queue for dungeons at all. After two long years the next expansion of the game, Legion was finally released and I penned:
I canceled my subscription to World of Warcraft for the first time since I started paying them for monthly access in 2008. I spent almost two years away from the game, playing whatever I liked as I had done for many, many years before that. I played other Blizzard games as well as games from other companies. I came back to the game because I missed my friends that I had established over the years raiding with them. I came back and started to play again in order to experience the content for Legion before it too became surpassed, like all the other expansions before it.
I pre-purchased Battle for Azeroth, and why not? The game developers had decided that they would not keep me from flying in-game, taking away content that I had paid money for and could rightly sue over if they were still doing business and claiming that the game that I had paid for was still active. I was ecstatic from a player’s perspective. Was it as good as it could have been? No, but then it was worlds better than Warlords of Dreanor was even before they took out half the content for that expansion.
Battle for Azeroth was by far the best expansion to be released since at least Wrath. The gameplay seemed designed to bring the players back to the original game and the intent of the original game and its associated lore. So many of the areas were designed to remind the players of content from previous games (Did anyone else see Nazmir for the first time and say “ah, Flayer Jungle“? I thought so) I just didn’t do the mindlessly repetitive islands or worry too much about the world battle zones that seemed pretty pointless. But then came Shadowlands, the current expansion.
The less said about Shadowlands, the better. I only bought this expansion so that I could continue raiding with my guildmates; and I only enjoyed that part of the game, the story being so patently not part of World of Warcraft lore that I failed to see why most of my characters would ever go there other than to save the soul of Azeroth (who knew Azeroth had a soul? A world-soul? Anyone? Apparently this was a thing revealed in Legion, if you read between the lines or read the books) an utterly forgettable expansion, all in all. Like BC, I won’t be going back to play this part of the game again.
The next expansion for World of Warcraft, Dragonflight, is due out by the end of the year, and once again I find myself wondering why I’m playing this game at all. Dragons are great, but I think there’s a fly in the ointment here, Blizzard.
In a tweet earlier this week, Nguyen explained that Blizzard made approximately $2.6M in sales for the crowdfunding toy, but only increased the AWC prize pool by $50K.esportsobserver.com
Activision Blizzard has a few problems of its own to work out before they can convince me that spending money on their games is a thing that I want to do again.
Classic World of Warcraft?
It began with Nostalrius, an independent server running a mock-up of the original version of World of Warcraft’s server software. Activision Blizzard was able to get the server shut down, but the player demand that they have access to the classic game was loud enough that the owners of the content relented and allowed a competing version of their own game to exist on their own servers.
Classic WoW came into existence at the end of 2019 and for those of us who played it, the downsides of the original game were there to be cataloged. No guild banks. They weren’t in vanilla/classic. No way to realistically find guilds within the game structure itself. It is a lie that Blizzard tells, when it claims that Classic WoW is exactly the way it was when the game was introduced. It is not. The player base is different and there are significant differences in Blizzard’s monetization strategy visible in the purchase offerings for those classic games.
With the roll-out of Classic Burning Crusade you can now boost to get to BC content, for the first time ever. That is one example. I would have loved to have that option available to me when I subscribed back in 2008. Maybe I would have understood then that real gameplay only occurs at max level as far as Blizzard and the players it caters to are concerned. That would have been a highly valued bit of information, and it would have saved me an immense amount of time trying to play a completionist version of World of Warcraft. Just run to max level and skip the distractions. That would be the advice I offer new players today.
The original game and Burning Crusade still remain flawed in crucial ways. There is no system in-game for organizing groups and doing the one thing that MMO’s were set up to do; namely play in massively multiplayer areas of the game. There are no guild advantages in-game aside from the ability to create a guild. There is no guild bank in the original game, making organizing groups the only reason to have a guild since joining a guild is the only way to organize anything in-game. Cross-server looking for group and looking for raid functions did not exist until late in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, with patch 3.3.0 Fall of the Lich King. This makes dungeoning and raiding in both World of Warcraft and Burning Crusade the same kind of torture it always was, with one crucial difference.
In the classic versions of the game, there are elitist players who cater to the newbs so long as they obtain large quantities of in-game currency to pay them with. The black market for gold has never been larger or more vibrant than it is in World of Warcraft Classic. You are constantly barraged with offers (WTS) to lead you through dungeons on the public text channels. Just have a fat purse for them to loot in the process and you are good to go. Raids remain the domain of guilds and elites that come prepared to join the few pick-up groups that do manage to be created in the hobbled universe that was World of Warcraft and Burning Crusade.
I would have been more impressed with Blizzard’s classic roll-out if they had put forth the effort to incorporate the classic game into the current retail version of World of Warcraft, allowing all the expansions to be played directly together from one login. I erroneously assumed that was the reason that they proposed the level squish at the beginning of Shadowlands. With max level returning to level 60, all raids could be played at max level as if they were current content! What a feast that would have been to experience. Alas, they did not take that route and instead made everything before Shadowlands irrelevant to end-game play; just as each succeeding expansion has made previous content not only irrelevant, but apparently despised and envied in the eyes of the programmers who created it.
As they said when fans were putting the Nostalrius server together:
Why would anyone want to play that old game?
Apparently they have figured out that there is money to be mined from nostalgia, just as Hollywood did the first time they remade a silent and then black and white movie. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Vanilla WoW is as gone as 2008. I’m certain I don’t want to go back to 2008, either.
Wrath Ain’t Gonna Be Classic, Either
The proposed Classic version of Blizzard’s third expansion of World of Warcraft is premiering soon, and I have extremely mixed feelings on the subject; even though, as I’ve said many times, it is my favorite expansion of the game. Blizzard announced several weeks ago that they will be removing the dungeon finder tool that came with Wrath in the initial release and won’t be rolling out the looking for group/raid tools that came out with the Icecrown Citadel raid shortly before the end of that expansion of the game.
When I heard this news I resolved that I wasn’t going to be playing the game. It won’t be Classic. Classic would be slavishly following the patterns that evolved over the course of the expansion, just like they’ve slavishly done with the crappy group interface that was present in the original game and the slightly less crappy group interface that was in Burning Crusade. To this day there still aren’t guild banks in Classic unless the guild sets aside alternate characters to act as guild banks and all the risk that operation entails. The guild-finding interface is essentially non-existent and the same goes for group-finding.
I understand this slavish devotion to the past for what it is. The developers know the game is broken in this area. The players know the game is broken, but they liked their work-arounds for it better than the work-arounds that Blizzard introduced with Wrath and then evolved with each expansion after that one. The developers and the accountants at Blizzard want to make sure that the best version of World of Warcraft is the current version and not the classic version, that is what this slavish devotion to history represents. They created competition for their current content development based on player demand, but they want to make sure that if you want the most inclusive feel to your gameplay, you have to play the retail version of World of Warcraft, pay for the retail version of the game.
Their decision to not include the first cludgy version of Raid Finder/Looking For Group proves this base motivation of theirs. There will be no attempt to make the Classic games more playable than they initially were. Which is a sad development from a player’s perspective.
No Easy Fix Even With Dragons
This isn’t about making things easier. The Wife has said for years addons are cheating, and I understand what she means by that observation. If you walked into a Shadowlands raid without installing Deadly Boss Mods (DBM) or some equivalent raid training software, you’d be dead within a few minutes. I use DBM and the Raid Finder available in retail WoW together as a replacement for watching videos about particular raid fights, which is also cheating in the scheme of things. If you think that fights in the current game are too easy, delete your addons and don’t watch instructional videos. Let’s see how long you last that way. If you think that flying makes the game too easy, I invite Blizzard to make uninterrupted flight more difficult. I loathe being knocked off of any mount in game, but if that is what it takes to have access to the parts of the game I’ve paid for, then so be it. Don’t wave your hands and talk about immersion when what you mean is “we want to cut corners.” Don’t make me pay for stuff that you aren’t going to include in the same game I’m still technically playing.
They’re upping the levels to 70 again in Dragonflight after squishing them to 60 from a whopping 120 just two years ago. They don’t appear to have learned their lesson when it comes to just adding more levels onto an existing game, so they’re going to go through the process again and again until they do learn. Leveling in modern games is so streamlined as to beg the question why? Why is this part of the game at all? Just gate content behind other content and let the players progress through content or not as they see fit. What does leveling bring to the game if it doesn’t introduce new spells and teach you how to play your class better during this introduction?
In Shadowlands the leveling to 50 is effortless. Leveling is so effortless that you can easily find it meaningless. I honestly don’t know what purpose leveling serves, I just know that it’s been part of Sword and Sorcery games since Dungeons and Dragons, and leveling there meant more because you had to do all the math yourself. Math so daunting that I never managed to successfully complete a game once I had finally rolled up a character to play, much less achieve top level in the D&D system. Why are we still doing this, putting numbers on levels? Why?
I don’t understand this problem with getting groups together on the one hand, and forcing me to go to random dungeons in order to get through the leveling process more quickly on the other. Why are these the only two options available for organizing groups? Why not allow summoning at meeting stones in all Classic versions of the game just as it is in the retail version? Why not allow people to list themselves for that specific dungeon right at the stone, across all the servers where that dungeon is available? Why must I spam world chat channels looking to complete content that should be completable at level without having to annoy other gamers or buy gold to pay the boosters with? Why do dungeons have to be queued for and run randomly? Why is that the default? Why isn’t the story flow respected? Narrative is key to storytelling. Game developers should respect this basic understanding. Respect the narrative and maybe your player base will do the same.
Why do I have to have different characters to play the same game? That is the most important point I’d like to make. Why is my main character not my main character across all the various flavors of this game that is supposed to be the same game? Why are there servers that split us all up into groups so small we can’t do group content?
Most importantly among this list of suggestions and complaints about the games themselves, there is the culture of the business that my dollars contribute to the continuance of by purchasing the games. Bobby Kotick will get $500 million for handing Activision Blizzard over to Microsoft. I’m not sure that he deserves a dime more than he’s already taken in for himself. Microsoft itself may be a step up for Blizzard even though I consider Microsoft to be one of the least forward thinking of any software or gaming companies that I know of. At least it isn’t known to be a raging cesspool of sexual misconduct and does occasionally produce software that is worth investing in (to this day I remain stuck in the Windows operating system even though I spent a decade trying to get out of it. It just works right out of the box, which is more than I can say for Linux) so this might actually be a good thing for World of Warcraft as a franchise and for the player base as a group. Who knows?
What I do know is that I’m ready to play something else now. I simply don’t know what I will play. I might purchase Dragonflight and I also might not. If I do, I won’t be playing the game at anything close to the amount of time that I have historically invested in the game. One class only. The minimum work in professions necessary to advance to endgame and participate in raids (the only reason I’m there now) I’ll just have to see what the future holds for me and for Microsoft’s treatment of Blizzard properties. What the future holds in the way of new games from people who used to work for Blizzard but now compete with it at new companies.
My gaming world has been dominated by Blizzard games for more than twenty years. I raised my children playing Starcraft, Diablo and World of Warcraft with them. It would be a shame to see the company fall to ruin because of the shortsightedness of the business community, the sexual predation of some men who worked there. In the meantime, I think I have a few other games to get back to that I still haven’t finished yet.